By Jennifer Marbley
Three local writers who left their mark on Nevadan literary culture were honored at the 27th Annual Nevada Writers Hall of Fame on Thursday, Nov. 13 at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Poet Shaun Griffin, folklorist Ronald M. James and historian Alicia Barber received standing ovations while accepting their awards during the induction. The ceremony was held in the Milt Glick Ballroom in the Joe Crowley Student Union where audiences gathered for the celebration. Griffin and James joined the 51 previous honorary members of the Hall of Fame and Barber was awarded the 2014 Silver Pen Award.
The selection committee chose the honorees for their contributions to Nevada’s literary arts history. According to the selection committee, the authors did not only need strong writing credentials, but a strong connection to the state of Nevada and must have contributed significantly to the state’s literary culture. The committee also stated that writing about the history of Nevada while giving back to the community was heavily factored into the honoree’s success.
James, the executive director of the Comstock Foundation, said that being accepted into the Hall of Fame was a humbling experience. James has published over half-a-dozen non-fiction books including “The Roar and the Silence,” which focuses on Virginia City’s mining district.
James is a UNR alumni, where he studied folklore and anthropology as an undergraduate student in 1973. He furthered his education at UNR with a master’s degree further exploring his interest in history and archeology. James said that he considers himself to be a native son of Nevada and that it was rewarding to be recognized by his birth state. He found his passion in writing about the history of Nevada and the diverse residents that inhabited it.
“I try to take history beyond just the written records, I like being able to deal with buildings and archeology and the things you can touch,” James said.
Griffin, a published poet and cofounder of the nonprofit Community Chest, similarly found writing inspiration in Nevada. Griffin worked as a counselor and addressed issues of poverty and homelessness in his nonprofit work. His work has provided him content to fuel his poetry, and being inducted in the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame helped to validate his work.
“There’s enough going on in this world that if your eyes are open and you have a heart, you’re going to have tons to write about,” Griffin said.
While on campus, Griffin was a guest speaker in senior Andrew Sherbondy’s poetry class. Sherbondy used Griffin’s writing advice and said that Griffin stressed the importance of honesty in writing and developing voice over time through experience and practice.
He said that this approach helped him to improve his poetry writing during his workshopping class. Knowing that Griffin was being inducted into the Hall of Fame was the main reason why Sherbondy attended the induction ceremony with some classmates and wanted to support him.
“I think it’s a great thing, and I’m glad more people are coming [to Nevada Hall of Fame ceremonies],” Sherbondy said. “Events like this are important to keep poetry and the literary arts alive.”
The Silver Pen Award was confirmation for Barber that she was on the right track in her writing career. She said that she was excited to join the long list of previous recipients of the Silver Pen Award.
“[James and Griffin] are absolutely inspiring writers,” Barber said. “I strive to be as productive and influential as they are.”
Barber’s love for literature led her to discover a passion for historical cities. She studied how people developed a sense of connection to certain landscapes, cities, and structures. Barber said that understanding a connection to a place helps people care more and take better care of it.
Barber loves cities with vibrant cultural scenes such as the District of Columbia, Seattle and Austin. She defines herself as a westerner who lives in a lot of different places, but said Nevada is quickly becoming a home for her.
“It means the world to me,” Barber said. “I always wanted to be a writer. Books were my best friends. I couldn’t think of anything better to be.”
Jennifer Marbley can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @MissMarbley.